Ex-Shapland and Petter employees work displayed at museum

The history of Shapland and Petter in Barnstaple goes back over 100 years

The history of Shapland and Petter in Barnstaple goes back over 100 years - Credit: Reginald Jordan

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon has announced an upcoming exhibition which showcases the work of ex-Shapland and Petter employees. 

Titled ‘Busy Hands - What the Shappie boys did next’ the exhibition will examine how these woodworkers use their skills today. It begins on Saturday 16 October in the Community Gallery and will feature wood turning, model making and more. 

The history of Shapland and Petter in Barnstaple goes back over 100 years. Henry Shapland had been apprenticed to a cabinet maker in Barnstaple, before travelling to America in 1851. When he arrived back in England he was joined by Henry Petter. By 1888 their business, Raleigh Cabinet Works, in the Raleigh area of Pilton was employing hundreds of workers. However, on 5 March 1888 a fire destroyed the factory. 

Working together as Shapland and Petter they re-located the business to a new site on the River Taw, at Bridge Wharf which had been a former shipbuilding yard, and became Barnstaple's biggest employer. 

Much of their furniture was 'arts and crafts' in design and they were well known for employing craftsmen and also using the most up-to-date machinery available for their products. They were also renowned for excellent design and workmanship, their carvers were highly skilled, serving seven-year apprenticeships and attending classes at the Barnstaple School of Art. 


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In 1924 Shapland and Petter merged with the Barnstaple Cabinet Company, producing North Devon's biggest industry and by the 1990s it had grown to be the largest privately owned employer in Devon, with a staff of approximately 900. The business was taken over by the LS Group in 1999 and sadly all operations in Barnstaple finally ceased in 2016. 

Museum Curator, Alison Mills, says: "The town of Barnstaple is proud of its heritage and the Shapland and Petter factory was a huge part of the town, with a prominent central location and hundreds of local people employed there for over 100 years. Within our collection, we have some beautiful examples of furniture, key objects from factory life and the design archives of the company on display. We even have the original Shapland hooter, powered by a steam boiler, the whistle would signal the start, mid-day break and end of shift at the factory. The sound of the whistle was part of Barnstaple life for so long that schoolchildren knew they were late for class by it and generations of Barumites still remember the sound to this day." 

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The exhibition runs until February 5, 2022, admission is free and measures are in place to keep visitors safe, including limiting visits to two groups of four people every 15 minutes, a one-way system, hand sanitisers, social distancing and use of the Track and Trace app 

To ensure visits are evenly spaced throughout the day, visitors can book to visit the museum through Art Tickets, with no booking fees. Visitors can also book tickets by calling 01271 346747. A small number of daily tickets will be kept aside for groups turning up on the day but visitors are strongly advised to pre-book as they may be asked to wait or return at a later time slot. 

Visitors wishing to enjoy Bromley’s tearoom do not have to pre-book and can access the tearoom through the museum’s side door. 

Current museum opening hours are Tuesday – Saturday 10:30am – 4:30pm (last admission at 4pm). Scaffolding is currently in place outside the building, this is just for routine maintenance and does not prevent public access. 

To keep up to date with events happening at the museum, visit their website or Facebook page.

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